Japan is famous for its sakura (cherry blossoms), and from the end of March to the beginning of April, the beautiful cherry blossoms are in full bloom. Cherry blossom viewing, called hanami is an activity originating from the Edo period in Japan, maybe even earlier. The blooming trees are something you are going to want to see at least once in your lifetime since it is breathtaking; pictures do not do it justice.
There are many places to go to see cherry blossoms in bloom, in fact, there is bound to be a row of cherry trees in any public park, but there are some places that were designed to showcase the full beauty of the Yoshino cherry blossoms (the most common type of cherry tree in Japan). One of these places is Gongendo Park.
Gongendo Park houses about 1,000 cherry trees and other flowers. Located in the Saitama Prefecture, it is approximately fifty minutes from Tokyo by car. Public transportation is recommended, as the streets get very crowded during hanami season. As well, there is a parking lot, and a temporary parking lot made during cherry blossom viewing, but it does come at a fee.
This beautiful park is free to enter, allowing anyone and everyone to take in the calming aroma given off by the cherry blossoms. It is open from 7:00 AM to 10:00 PM, and the park is lit up by traditional paper lanterns from sunset to the park’s closing every day from March 26th to April 10th. It also hosts the Satte Sakura Festival every year. This year, 2017, will be the 87th festival, which takes place from March 26th to April 10th (when the cherry blossoms are in full bloom). They also host a haiku contest during this time, so not only can the beauty of the trees be seen, but it can also be heard through the words of many poets who come to participate.
The best feature of this park, that sets it apart from the rest, is the one kilometer stretch of cherry trees lining the path. The cherry trees are directly next to the path, forming a tunnel of cherry blossoms, while there are fields of mustard flowers on the outside of the trees. The contrast between the pink blossoms on the trees and smaller, yellow flowers leave many visitors speechless, whether they be natives who have seen it every year or tourists seeing it for the first time. Along with this tunnel, there are many other cherry trees in the park, surrounding water and bridges, and scattered if fields. Many families and friends are seen on picnics, drinking, and singing, playing, and having a good time while admiring the cherry blossoms.
If you did not bring anything to eat, you are in luck! Like any festival, there are plenty of food vendors with traditional food from Japan, like yakisoba (buckwheat noodles), okonomiyaki (a savory pancake), yakitori (a grilled chicken kabob), and much more! There is also some western food that can be found (like hamburgers) and plenty of candy and treats like chocolate covered bananas! There are over one hundred of these stands, mostly located at the southern end of the park, but can be found along the path or scattered around.
Viewing the cherry blossoms became popular in Japan about three centuries ago, and this traditional activity is still widely known. The amount of people who travel the world to see this wonder is very high, and it is listed as one of the things you must do in a lifetime by many people and magazines. Viewing the sakura with family, friends, or even alone is an eye opening and calming experience that you will never forget.
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Address: 50 Koemon, Kuki, Saitama Prefecture
12 minutes by car from Minami-Kurihashi Station
30 minute walk from Minami-Kurihashi Station
Website: Gongendo Park